When teaching kids anything new, it is important to remember to start with the concrete and move to the abstract. Many things in life are abstract (for example: addition and subtraction, a foreign language, or vocabulary). It helps our kids out tremendously if we start by teaching concepts in a concrete manner and build up from there. By concrete, I mean they can see it and manipulate it with their hands. If it applies, they can use all five senses so their brains can make as many connections with it as possible, building prior knowledge and a sturdy foundation for learning.
Take, for example, these three items: 1- the word apple, 2- a picture of an apple, and 3- an actual apple.
CONCRETE: an actual apple–it can be felt, manipulated, cut into, eaten, observed
LESS CONCRETE: a picture of an apple
ABSTRACT: the word apple
If a child has not had experience with the real apple, the word apple will not mean too much to her. It is the same with reading many unfamiliar words. Our kids need to be able to feel it, manipulate it, “cut into it”, “taste it”, and observe it to make understanding come easier.
Ideas for Making it Tangible
USE MULTI-SENSORY TECHNIQUES: Pick activities that appeal to the five senses. The more senses you can integrate into the lesson, the better! It can be as simple as playing with ABC puzzles or manipulating magnetic letters to spell sight words. If you need a few ideas, check out my 5 Day Series on Multi-Sensory Activities for Teaching Reading! You’re sure to find some ideas. I know I did!
FIELD TRIPS: And they don’t have to cost any money. Visit a local fire house, a grocery store (behind the scenes), daddy’s work, an apple orchard, a farm, a post office, your own backyard, etc. One mistake we can make with field trips is that we go after we’ve studied a certain subject to “wrap up” our study. But going first would actually be better because it’s the tangible.
FAMILY TRIPS: Take a trip to the mountains. The beach. The state capital. The zoo. Anywhere you can see something new. Feel the sand between your toes. Breathe in that mountain air. Watch monkeys pick bugs off one another! 🙂
MEDIA: Books, DVDs, the internet, even cell phones these days can show kids things that they wouldn’t be able to see any other way, making it more tangible than simply talking about it. Quite often when I’m trying to explain something to my kids, I’ll get on Youtube, Google images, or Google Earth and so they can “see” it. (Caution: As innocent as your search may be on the internet, sometimes images pop up that you don’t want little eyes to see. Searching beforehand, bookmarking it, then showing later is always a good idea!)